ESPN has suspended one of its hosts, Jemele Hill, after she posted a series of tweets pertaining to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who said players who demonstrate during the national anthem will be benched.
“If there’s anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play,” Jones said. “Understand? We will not … if we are disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period.”
Hill criticized Jones for putting some of his players in an uncomfortable spot and called on fans to take action.
ESPN posted a statement on Twitter, which referred to Hill’s previous tweets about President Donald Trump, calling the posts “impulsive.”
“Jemele Hill has been suspended for two weeks for a second violation of our social media guidelines. She previously acknowledged letting her colleagues and company down with an impulsive tweet. In the aftermath, all employees were reminded of how individual tweets may reflect negatively on ESPN and that such actions would have consequences. Hence this decision.”
Vice President Mike Pence left Sunday’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers when the latter team knelt during the national anthem.
In a statement Monday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said the players’ actions are not disrespecting the flag.
“Last week both the Commissioner and the Chair of the NFL Management Council John Mara were clear when they assured our union leaders, in the presence of other owners, that they would respect the Constitutional rights of our members without retribution,” he said. “I look forward to the day when everyone in Management can unite and truly embrace and article what that Flag stands for: ‘Liberty and Justice for All’ instead of some of them just talking about standing. We look forward to continuing our talks with them on this very issue.”
A look at his own remarks.
Last month Hill called Trump a white supremacist on Twitter. Her words caught the attention of the White House: Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Hill’s tweets “a fireable offense” at a subsequent press briefing.
Hill later said she regretted that her comments “painted ESPN in an unfair light.” But she stood by her remarks as her personal beliefs.
Trump on Tuesday attacked Hill on Twitter.
Some responded with criticism, both for the nature of his tweet and the fact that he perhaps has more important things he could devote his Twitter fingers to.
According to a new set of guidelines issued by ESPN earlier this year, “commentary related to political or social issues, candidates or office holders is appropriate on ESPN platforms.”
A subsequent list of guidelines suggests that such commentary pertains to sports whenever possible and to “avoid personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric.”
“Personal attacks” and “inflammatory rhetoric” are subjective terms, Patrick Stiegman shared in an interview with ESPN analyzing the guidelines. Stiegman is ESPN’s vice president of global digital content. He also serves as chairman of the company’s internal Editorial Board.
“There is always a layer of subjectivity in such areas,” Stiegman said. “Editors and producers will work with those offering opinions on these topics to ensure the dialogue and debate is thoughtful, respectful and as fair as possible.”
While not appearing to discipline Hill publicly after the Trump tweets, according to an exclusive from ThinkProgress, ESPN did try to keep Hill off the air after the incident. Several sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the outlet that Michael Smith, Hill’s SportsCenter co-host, refused to do the show without Hill, and the network could not find replacement hosts in time for the broadcast.
Some of the sources said that ESPN was ideally seeking Black hosts to do the show, but others said the network asked multiple people if they were available, including white anchors. Apparently not able to find a replacement, ESPN asked Hill to come back to do the show, and she and Smith appeared on air.
ThinkProgress also reported that ESPN denies that account of the day’s events.
“Yesterday was a hard and unusual day, with a number of people interpreting the day without a full picture that happened,” Rob King, SportsCenter SVP of news and information, shared with the outlet. “In the end, ultimately, Michael and Jemele appearing on the show last night and doing the show the way they did is the outcome we always desired.”
ESPN reported to ThinkProgress and other media outlets that they “never asked” anyone to fill in for Hill or Smith.